LONDON – Shipments of hydrogen fuel cells grew by more than 40 percent last year as proponents of the technology worked to establish it alongside lithium-ion batteries as a way to remove pollution from transportation.
Companies delivered about 1,100 megawatts of hydrogen fuel cells in 2019, up from 806 megawatts in 2018, according to a report from energy consultant E4tech. The growth follows moves by major industrial and manufacturing companies to invest in hydrogen as a way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
“For heavy-duty vehicles, it’s becoming more and more apparent you can’t do everything with batteries and there needs to be a way to approach zero-emission driving,” said David Hart, a director at E4tech, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The fuel cell industry’s expansion is improving the supply chain and driving down costs, Hart said. Shipments may as much as double this year in terms of megawatts compared to 2019, the report said.
Most of the business currently is for transportation, using hydrogen to power a vehicle directly or to charge a battery. The process of converting the hydrogen into power produces water as a result, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions caused by internal combustion engines.
Asia has been the driving force behind the growth. About two-thirds of all the megawatts shipped last year came from Toyota Motor Corp. and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co., E4tech found. The growth in Asia made up for a nearly 10 percent decline in North America after three years of consistent growth.
Even as hydrogen grew last year, the progress was minuscule compared to lithium-ion batteries. About 15,300 fuel cells were shipped for a wide array of transportation purposes last year, according to E4tech. That compares to roughly 1.5 million battery electric vehicles sold in 2019, according to BloombergNEF.
Still, fuel cells could play a growing role for commercial vehicles such as buses and trucks that require more power and quicker refueling.
“If you believe the thesis that we need to throw everything at the climate problem, then batteries can’t pick up all the slack,” Hart said. “There will be a place for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as well.”
Last year showed some major transportation players see a role for hydrogen. Cummins Inc., one of the world’s largest makers of diesel engines, acquired hydrogen fuel cell-maker Hydrogenics Corp. The world’s largest auto-parts supplier, Robert Bosch GmbH, also entered the hydrogen fuel cell business in 2019, saying they expect the sector be worth billions of euros in the long term.